Animals and Our Mental Health
Its been a "National Geographic" week!
During the summer, I keep a few goldfish outside in a small pond in our backyard. They are great at keeping the pond water free of insects and mosquito larve. Today I brought the fish inside and introduced them to their new home and new roomate, a snail.
This past week at school we have encountered a praying mantis, baby frog and baby snapping turtle, all on the playground. The kids somehow find these tiny creatures nestled in the grass, and are so excited when they do. They want me to take pictures of the animals, hold the animals, save the animals, bring them into the classroom. We talk about the animals, google the animals, and even days later the subject is brought back up repeatedly, "remember the baby turtle Mrs. Stuart?".
Bottom line: I don't think we give animals enough credit, especially when it comes to our mental health. And it's not just the regular kinds of pets we think of (dogs, cats) that are beneficial....and the studies are proving this.
How do you feel when you are around your pet?
Unconsciously they reduce our stress, and the mere act of caring for another living being can keep you positively focused. Walking a dog is a great way to get exercise, and to socialize, especially if you have a friendly one! And well cats, you know cats, they are a different story....snuggling up to you on "their terms" only (haha). And there are actual scientific studies that show our pets, and even just being around animals in general, help our mental health.
I had the opportunity to hang out with a therapy dog who visited my mom while in hospice care. Having that little guy around for a few minutes that afternoon helped everyone in the room. What am I saying?! He helped everyone on the entire floor! He stopped to be petted and licked several other nursing home residents, and all I could hear was laughter and talk about the dog for hours after he left.
The dog was so gentle while climbing into my mother's bed. It was the last time she was animated that day, while she was feeding the doggie some treats. Getting a hallway snuggle was very therapeutic to me as well.
Here are some other examples of other not-so-typical pets and their impact on our everyday mental health :
In one study, a stressed-out group of adults were told to pet a rabbit, a turtle or their toy forms. The toys had no effect. But stroking a living creature, whether hard-shelled or furry, relieved anxiety. It worked for people regardless of whether they initially said they liked animals.
Animals don't have to be cuddly to help. In a 2016 study published in the journal Gerontology, elderly people who were given five crickets in a cage became less depressed after eight weeks than a control group. The act of caring for a living creature seems to make the difference.